How do you stop a cyber-criminal? Think like one

Training cybercrime-fighters to think like cy... 02:17

PORTLAND, Maine - In his lab at the University of Southern Maine, Charles Largay asks his classroom to identify the biggest difference between the Home Depot and Target breaches.

In the war on cybercrime, his students are the next generation of cops on the beat. And Largay is the wise old detective training them.

axelrod7.jpg
Charles Largay trains students how to think like cybercriminals at his lab at the University of Southern Maine.

"There is somebody trying to come over the wall in every business, every entity, every enterprise, every day," said Largay.

By showing them how to break into computer networks, Largay is teaching his students to think like the bad guys.

"We show them the kinds of things that people do to get ahold of critical information," he said. "Then you can defend against it. If you don't understand how it's happening, how do you stop it?"

In the last five years, hackers have been responsible for at least 236 million reported corporate data breaches. Students like Tatiana Roman-Chish-I Na and Joseph Cronyn know that number will only get bigger.

"It's really about what's coming next. And what tools can we use to prepare for that next level of the war," said Cronyn.

Perhaps the most important tool they have is Largay himself, who's been in computer security since before there was an internet.

"I hope we can give them enough skills" to stop digital intruders, he said. "It's going to take people who can think creatively, think outside of the box. And people who don't suffer from a failure of imagination."

But for such a potentially crippling problem, there are only a dozen colleges in the country granting degrees in cyber-security. Southern Maine hopes to be the thirteenth.

But what if the bad guys are just too smart? This prospect doesn't phase Roman-Chish-I Na. "I'm hoping that the good guys are smart as well, or smarter. That would be better," she said, chuckling.

Anything to keep the crooks from turning all those ones and zeroes into incalculable damage.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.